On October 7, 2023, under the overcast skies of Washington, D.C., the football field bore witness to a breathtaking moment when Brandon Washington electrified the game with an extraordinary 63-yard touchdown run. It was a thrilling showcase of athleticism as the quarterback, during his third offensive play of the game, received the snap, swiftly navigated through the line of scrimmage, and raced down the heart of the field, culminating his sprint in the end zone.
This was no ordinary touchdown; it marked a historic juncture for the 5G-connected helmet, a pioneering technology born from the collaboration of Gallaudet University, the sole liberal arts institution dedicated to deaf and hard-of-hearing students worldwide, and AT&T. This innovative helmet offered players visual play instructions, rendering auditory communication obsolete.
Brandon Washington, sharing his firsthand experience, couldn’t contain his excitement about the helmet. He remarked, “It was an excellent fit, comfortable on the inside. The visor was just the right size, offering a clear view. I truly love this helmet,” during a conversation with USA TODAY Sports. This touchdown run symbolized the harmonious fusion of technology and sports, ushering in an era where athletes like Washington engage with the game in a way that makes football more inclusive and accessible to all.
In a remarkable amalgamation of technology and athleticism, AT&T, in partnership with Gallaudet University, unveiled a groundbreaking marvel: the inaugural 5G-enabled football helmet. This collaborative venture made its grand debut in Gallaudet University’s NCAA Division III showdown against Hilbert College, with the intention of revolutionizing American football. It was a testament to inclusivity, aimed at enhancing on-field communication for student-athletes proficient in American Sign Language.
AT&T, renowned for its commitment to enhancing the sports experience through its connectivity expertise, recognized the transformative potential of 5G technology in the world of sports. In their quest for innovation, they found the perfect ally in Gallaudet University.
Gallaudet University, a trailblazer in the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, boasts a storied history of innovation. Deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes have consistently shattered barriers and showcased their exceptional talents on the field.
The heart of this innovation lay in the advanced technology of the helmet, empowering coaches on the sidelines. Coaches could now select plays using a tablet, which were seamlessly transmitted to a visor-mounted digital display inside the helmet. For quarterbacks donning this groundbreaking headgear, plays came to life through augmented reality (AR). The reliability and low latency of AT&T’s 5G network ensured that plays were transmitted and received with the rapidity demanded by the pace of the game.
This augmented reality representation of the coach’s instructions bridged the communication gap for deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes, fostering inclusivity in football while reducing the potential for miscommunication and penalties.
Chuck Goldstein, Gallaudet’s head coach, underscored the significance of this development during a conversation with Robert Weinstock, Gallaudet University’s Senior Public Relations Manager. He explained, “Our preparation, practice, and competition mirror those of any other college football program. However, the key difference in coaching a hearing team compared to a Deaf team is communication. The AT&T 5G-connected helmet is poised to revolutionize the world of football.”
Shelby Bean, Gallaudet University’s special teams coordinator and a former player, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing, “The new AT&T 5G-connected helmet will have a significant impact on the game of football, particularly for our deaf and hard-of-hearing players who previously lacked direct access to coach communications during their high school years. This innovation levels the playing field for mainstream athletes. As a former player, I am ecstatic to witness this revolutionary technology change our lives and the game of football itself.”
After Washington and the Bison beat the Hilbert Hawks 34-20 in the Oct. 7 home game at Hotchkiss Field, the junior was named the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference co-offensive player of the week for putting up 124 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
AT&T envisions that the applications of a 5G-connected helmet extend far beyond college football, potentially fostering inclusivity in any sport that mandates helmet usage. Furthermore, it can find application in various scenarios requiring instant communication, with the potential to enhance safety on construction sites, assist first responders, and create new job opportunities for the deaf community. AT&T remains steadfast in its commitment to collaborating with partners to explore broader adoption of this transformative technology and software, with a vision of driving significant change in the world of sports and beyond.
Corey Anthony, AT&T’s Senior Vice President for Network Engineering and Operations, shared his perspective with Weinstock, affirming, “In partnership with Gallaudet, we are proving that connectivity has the power to transform everything. Our expertise in connectivity, combined with Gallaudet’s legacy of breaking down barriers, has given rise to a helmet that not only revolutionizes how deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes engage in sports but also unleashes boundless possibilities for innovation.”
In recognition of Gallaudet University’s invaluable contributions to the development of the AT&T 5G-connected helmet, AT&T is demonstrating its appreciation through a generous donation of $500,000 to the school’s football program. Additionally, every Gallaudet player will receive a new helmet from AT&T, along with other 5G-connected devices, further underscoring the commitment to advancing inclusivity and innovation in the world of sports.